Officials in the District of Columbia are providing police with access to more than 5,000 closed-circuit TV cameras that monitor traffic, schools and public housing.
The primary benefit of the huge surveillance network “is for public health and safety,” said Darrell Darnell, director of Washington’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
Mayor Adrian Fenty said the Metropolitan Police Department currently monitors 92 surveillance cameras in high-crime areas, and the number of cameras available to the department will rise to 225 in the expanded network, the Washington Times reported.
Police and other agencies will also have access to 1,388 outside cameras and 3,874 cameras inside buildings. Almost 3,500 of the cameras are operated by the District’s school system, and the local transportation department operates 131 cameras.
Darnell said the network will allow agencies to share video feeds that will be actively monitored and will operate “24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
The expansion of the surveillance camera network has some civil liberties advocates concerned.
“You put a camera here, it’s not so bad, you put a camera there, it’s not so bad,” Art Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, told the Times.
“But then … we find out there are 5,200 cameras. That’s a big number.”
And Spitzer told the Washington Post: “Having it all together in one place brings us one step closer to the kind of scary movie scenario where they can track somebody moving across the city.”
District Police Chief Cathy Lanier testified recently that her department’s cameras have led to a 19 percent reduction in violent crime within 250 feet of the cameras and a 4 percent drop within 1,000 feet.
But D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, questioned those figures, saying cameras merely drive criminals to move their areas of operation.
He told the Post: “It’s clear looking at other cities that cameras displace crime, they don’t reduce crime.”
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